Anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ Oklahoma governor vows to protect right to not wear a mask

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Gov. Kevin Stitt has long opposed abortion rights and LGBTQ equality, but pledged in a tweet to always defend constituents' 'individual liberties.'

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt doubled down on his refusal to implement COVID-19 safety mandates on Tuesday, suggesting he was defending "individual liberties," despite a long record of opposing abortion rights and LGBTQ equality.

"It’s troubling there are governors in other states who believe in sacrificing freedoms by mandating and controlling their citizens," Stitt tweeted. "As Governor, I will always trust Oklahomans to do the right thing. And I will never sacrifice our individual liberties for any price."

He shared a video with the tweet in which he described himself as a defender of constitutional protections.

"Oxford defines liberty as 'the state of being free, within society, from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views. And I ask you this: Is there ever a time when freedom must be sacrificed? Maybe public safety? Public health? Majority viewpoint?" he said.

"Today, some leaders of cities and states in America are saying 'yes,'" he added. "This is deeply troubling to me."

Stitt also claimed that "freedom is about protecting the minority's viewpoint."

Stitt is facing pressure from the federal government to allow schools to enact mask mandates intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus delta variant.

Though cases and hospitalizations have spiked in his state in recent weeks, Stitt has refused to issue safety restrictions or mask requirements, in the name of "personal responsibility" and "freedoms."

In May, he signed a law prohibiting schools and colleges from requiring masks or vaccinations. He explained that he signed it "to ensure that students can go to school" without choices being made for them.

But the American Association of Pediatrics has recommended universal masking at all schools "because a significant portion of the student population is not yet eligible for vaccines, and masking is proven to reduce transmission of the virus and to protect those who are not vaccinated."

The Department of Education announced Monday that Oklahoma and four other GOP-controlled states with anti-mask laws were being investigated by the Office for Civil Rights.

"It's simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve," Secretary Miguel Cardona warned. "The department will fight to protect every student's right to access in-person learning safely."

A Stitt spokesperson has since accused President Joe Biden and his administration of "harassing states like Oklahoma for protecting parents' rights to make health decisions for their kids."

More than 7,800 Oklahomans have died from COVID-19 to date. At least four of those have been children.

Stitt's remarks on Tuesday contrast with his past efforts to crack down on reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality.

In his 2018 campaign, he promised to appoint anti-abortion justices to the state's Supreme Court and to back any restriction to abortion rights that his legislature sent him. "I’ll sign every piece of [pro-life] legislation that hits my desk," he vowed.

In April, he signed multiple anti-abortion bills, including one that would bar abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.  "When I ran for office, I told Oklahomans that I would sign every piece of pro-life legislation that hit my desk. And I stayed true to that promise," Stitt said at the time.

A challenge to a similar Texas ban is currently pending before the Supreme Court.

Stitt has also opposed individual liberties for LGBTQ Oklahomans.

In an April interview, he endorsed a ban on transgender kids participating in school athletics. "As a general rule I do not believe that biological males should compete in female sports so I would look at any specific bill that made it to my desk but the general rule I just think that's we're accepting of everyone in the state of Oklahoma but also we're thinking about those female athletes on those teams and how fair that would be for someone to compete," he told reporters.

Stitt also signed a law in May that prohibits Oklahoma's public colleges and universities from requiring LGBTQ-inclusive diversity training.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.